Coronavirus misinformation on social media is costing lives doctors warn

'Coronavirus misinformation on social media is costing lives': Doctors plead for help over Covid-19 falsehoods

A global group of doctors is pleading with social media companies to help them combat the ‘infodemic’ of coronavirus misinformation on social media.

Medical professionals from the UK, US and Portugal have submitted evidence to British MPs in which they blame online falsehoods for harming sufferers of the disease.

More than 2,000 health professionals and supporters have also now signed an Avaaz campaign letter asking social media firms to “correct the record on health misinformation” by “alerting and notifying every single person who has seen or interacted with health misinformation on their platforms, and sharing well-designed and independently fact-checked correction”. They also want platforms to “detox the algorithms that decide what people see”.

Separately, Press Gazette last week launched a campaign, Fight The Infodemic, calling on social media companies to crackdown on misinformation around coronavirus and provide more support and promotion to professional evidence-backed journalism.









As part of the Avaaz campaign doctors submitted several pieces of evidence to Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation.

Misinformation spreading unchecked on social media costs lives’

Ricardo Mexia, president of the Portuguese Association of Public Health Doctors, said: “The term ‘infodemic’ coined by the WHO fails to describe the magnitude of the problem we are facing with misinformation.

“I have been required to explain, time and again, that we shouldn’t rush to the pharmacy to buy X (replace X with any of the drugs that have been portrayed as the cure), that there is no conspiracy to take away our civil liberties, or that using a mask doesn’t cause lethal hypoxia (have we undergone surgery by hypoxic masked surgeons for decades?). These are just a few examples of the challenges we are facing on a daily basis.

“Misinformation spreading unchecked on social media costs lives and we need stern action to avoid those preventable deaths. It is our collective responsibility to make sure that information being delivered or shared with the public doesn’t lead them to risk their lives or the lives of those close by, particularly the most vulnerable ones.

“It is not a matter of freedom of speech. It is a matter of freedom to live and let live.”

We would appreciate social media companies standing behind us in this fight’

Meenakshi Bewtra, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, said that Covid-19 falsehoods have fueled “inaccurate and dangerous practices, as well as a backlash against valid science and the scientists who stand up for the facts”.

She said: “We are frontline healthcare workers and scientists. We are working around the clock to save lives. The wealth of misinformation increases our work; it places our lives in danger; and adds additional stress and emotional and mental toll to all of us.

“Social media sites should feel the same responsibility to prevent the dissemination of misinformation; and have corrections in place when it happens. We would appreciate social media companies standing behind us in this fight.”

Siema Iqbal, a GP in the UK, said: “There have been conspiracy theories amongst the Asian communities regarding Covid mostly stemming from fear, but this has led to a lot of misinformation. Common theories include that doctors are trying to kill patients in hospital and to avoid hospitals at all costs.

“Messages, usually anonymous, have been shared on WhatsApp seemingly of relatives writing about the way their family members have been treated in hospital, left to die or given an injection (sometimes referred to as the Covid vaccine) and that has killed them.

“This has led to patients refusing to go into hospital and deterred them from seeking medical help early rather than later. It has also made dealing with family members who have loved ones in hospital difficult to manage as they feel adamant that the doctors are actively trying to harm them or discharging them without treating them.”

‘Disinformation has been the virus’ key ally in enabling its carnage’

Duncan Maru, an epidemiologist and physician at the Arnhold Institute for Global Health, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, believes that neighbours of his in Queens, New York, have died because the US government did not act fast enough to contain coronavirus.

He suggests that this response was “informed by online conspiracy theories and because of fake news stories claiming that Covid-19 was created by the government of China, that social distancing measures are ineffective, that closures of non-essential businesses are a political plot, or that certain ethnicities are either immune or more likely to spread the disease”.

He added that the “viral spread of disinformation about unproven home therapies has also enabled the virus to spread more quickly. As a result, I’ve seen patients present too late for the care they need to survive. Colleagues of mine have even witnessed and treated patients suffering from consuming disinfectants after reading online that this was a way to cure COVID-19”.

Maru concluded: “Disinformation has been the virus’ key ally in enabling its carnage. It is both deadly and deeply disrespectful to health workers on the frontlines and our patients.

“We can’t be fighting lies and saving lives at the same time. As an American citizen, I ask that you protect your own citizens from the callous disregard for public health of American companies like Facebook. We need help desperately in holding tech companies accountable who profit by allowing these lies to spread and to harm.”

Rajeev Fernando, an infectious disease specialist from New York who traveled to Wuhan, China, to investigate Covid-19 in January, said: “Since we’re in a global economic recession, we need to trust in science and reopen the economy based on facts. As a doctor on the frontlines, I’m battling two challenges: trying to save the lives of ICU patients succumbing to the virus and tackling the infodemic. Millions are believing in pseudoscience, fictional documentaries and disproved medical treatments from social media.”

He added: “One of the biggest obstacles and challenges I face in informing people about COVID-19 is the public’s belief in conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus and bogus cures.”

Picture: Image shared on Facebook by individuals who believe Covid-19 is a conspiracy and questioning whether social distancing measures are necessary.



Press Gazette's must-read weekly newsletter featuring interviews, data, insight and investigations.

Author: William Turvill

William is Press Gazette's North America Editor.


3 thoughts on “'Coronavirus misinformation on social media is costing lives': Doctors plead for help over Covid-19 falsehoods”

  1. As an avid fan of PressGazette, I was dissapointed by your very biased article: Fake news on Covid-19 life and death issue, doctors warn.

    For the last 2 1/2 months I have been researching the Covid-19 story in great detail, and I have come to the conclusion that the mainstream media is not the place to go for the real truth behind this pandemic, to say nothing of the fear porn that they spread about something of which there is no need to be gutted with fear.

    I too have for many years ridiculed so-called ‘conspiracy theorists,’ but since having the time, under this draconian lockdown, to spend literally hundreds of hours researching the Covid-19 pandemic I am beginning to think that the alternative news sites appear to have much more scientific evidence behind their claims than the regular media platforms do. The mere fact that Face Book, Google and You Tube are desperately pulling down alternative sites, channels and posts that they claim to be ‘fake news’ did indeed arouse my curiosity. Why would such large organisations be running scared of something written by some nutty conspiracy theorist? I asked myself. With heightened awareness, I went on a mission for true facts, and what I found shocked me to the core.

    I decided to start with the word pandemic, a term that was being blasted out from every mainstream broadcasting station sending shivers down people’s spines worldwide. I studied numerous death statistics and it wasn’t long before I came to the conclusion that this word ‘pandemic’ was a misnomer. It was not appropriate for what was happening in 2020.

    The Spanish flu in 1918 – 1919 infected around 500 million people and killed between 30 – 100 million worldwide. That is indisputably a pandemic. To date, Covid-19 deaths worldwide at time of writing, are 416,124. Not even one half of one million! If 416,124 deaths from a Covid-19 is classed as a pandemic, then I can safely claim that I have lived through one pandemic for every year of my life – the flu.

    In USA, there are 39 million cases of the flu every winter, and 30- 80 thousand die from the flu every year, and they have never shut down the country because of ‘that’ pandemic.

    In the UK all seven ‘Nightingale’ field hospitals built to deal with the pandemic and having a total capacity of 11,000 beds, have not been used, are empty, and being dismantled or mothballed. The same applies to the hundreds of other smaller field hospitals with patient capacity running into tens of thousands, and the numerous temporary morgues. Billions of pounds of hard working British citizen’s money has been squandered on these white elephant hospitals and morgues. As an added insult to the same hard working citizens whose livelihoods, the government has stripped from them of their livlihoods and freedoms. At the same time the approximately 1,260 regular hospitals were also pretty much empty, with nothing much going on apart bored NHS staff doing tiktok dance routines in empty wards.

    The mainstream media bombards it’s diehard adherents with daily death tolls, but of course never interviews those doctors and staff responsible for certifying cause of death who say that the numbers are being rigged. Even so, with the inflated rigged Covid-19 death statistics, numbers remain little more than those that we would expect form a slightly bad flu season.

    Not suprisingly, countries who have not gone mad over lockdown, or have not instigated any lockdown policies whatsoever, have amazingly low death rates for ‘Covid-19.’

    The more that I researched the more gobsmacked I became. One awesome statistic that I discovered was that there are about 380 trillion (that’s 380,000,000,000,000) viruses in our bodies, and 30 – 50 trillion bacteria. It seems that these viruses and bacteria are all part of our virome and microbiome which we need to live a healthy life. Not something that will make the print of Press Gazette that’s for sure.

    There are hundreds of doctors, epidemiologists, scientists, virologists, microbiologists, nurses who see through this scamdemic. How about you feature them on your pages instead? Not even a remote chance of that I’ll bet!

    As for honouring that fast dissapearing aspect of a true democracy – free speech – it will be comforting confirmation that I have called your bluff, and you are as I believe a perpetrator of misinformation, propaganda and fake news, if this comment is censored and never makes it past your moderator.

    C’mon, let’s see what you’re really made of eh?

1 2

Comments are closed.